Congo: Managing the Multiplague

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June 5, 2019: The death toll from the Ebola virus epidemic in eastern Congo continues to mount. Since August 1, 2018, when the epidemic was officially declared, the fatality ratio has been consistently been between 60 and 70 percent. In mid-May WHO (World Health Organization) reported the fatality ratio was 67 percent. On May 31 WHO had recorded 1,860 confirmed Ebola virus cases and 94 probable cases. There had been 1,312 deaths attributed to the virus, including 1,218 of the dead among the confirmed cases. That’s a 66 percent fatality ratio among confirmed cases. Of the 1,954 confirmed and probable cases, 59 percent were female. Around 30 percent were youth and children under the age of 18. So far the virus has affected 105 healthcare workers. Here are a few more statistical notes. Between May 26 and May 31 WHO confirmed 54 new cases in the epidemic zone (1,826 rising to 1,860). That is roughly 11 new cases a day. The virus remains highly infectious. On June 1 WHO revised its figures: 1,900 confirmed cases, 94 probable cases, 1,245 confirmed deaths, 94 probable deaths. That doesn’t mean 40 people died in two days; it means WHO got better data. Misdiagnoses occur and occasionally cases are reclassified. WHO, working with the Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan governments and numerous medical aid NGOs (Non-Government Organizations), has made a concerted effort to track down and identify Ebola virus victims and then transport them to a treatment center. Monitoring an epidemic and treating patients are complex operations; Congo’s lack of modern roads and poor communications systems make them more difficult.

Now add eastern Congo’s other plagues, insurgent warfare and anarchic violence. Attacks by the ADF militant Islamist terror group and violent acts committed by various rogue militias and criminal gangs (often militias are just gangs) continue to plague North and South Kivu provinces and Ituri province. North Kivu and Ituri are in the Ebola virus epidemic zone. The violence threatens healthcare workers and greatly hinders efforts to halt the epidemic. The ADF now claims to be part of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). ISIL propaganda now refers to the ADF as ISCAP (Islamic State Central Africa Province). As a result, ISCAP/ADF has stepped up its attacks against Ebola virus clinics, which indicates its radical jihadist leaders want the disease to spread. The ADF believes it benefits from mass terror and sees the Ebola virus as an excellent terror weapon.

The disruptive violence in eastern Congo is a major reason medical professionals regard the Ebola virus statistics as indicative but not precise. Some credible observers believe reporting runs at least ten percent below the actual number of cases. There are around 400 suspected cases. Another reason for iffy statistics is the reluctance of many Congolese to cooperate with government officials and healthcare workers. Some of the reluctance is political (they don’t trust the Kinshasa government) but some is also attributable to cultural preferences (i.e., locals prefer traditional healing methods). The new president, Felix Tshisekedi, has visited eastern Congo and tried to confront both the political and cultural suspicions. So far there is little indication his efforts have had an effect. (Austin Bay)

June 3, 2019: In Congo the new president’s (Tshisekedi) May 20 decision to appoint Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba as the new prime minister of continues to appall Congo’s opposition political leaders. Ilukamba is a close associate of former president Joseph Kabila. A Tshisekedi spokesman acknowledged that the appointment was based on an agreement the new president had made with Kabila. There is evidence opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu won 59 percent of the popular vote in the December 2018 election, but a deal between Kabila and Tshisekedi made Tshisekedi president. Ilukamba’s appointment looks the nightmare scenario that Fayulu predicted would occur. Fayulu said Kabila would continue to run his kleptocracy from behind the scenes. Since the election Fayulu has denounced what he calls the “Tshisekedi-Kabila coalition.” At one time Ilukamba ran Congo’s national railway company, which many Congolese regard as an incompetent and corrupt organization. He also served as finance minister under former president-for-life Mobutu Sese Seko.

May 31, 2019: In Congo, the body of former Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has been brought home. Etienne Tshisekedi was the father of the current president, Felix Tshisekedi. He died in Belgium in February 2017 (age 84). Former president Joseph Kabila prevented the return of the elder Tshisekedi’s body to Congo. The casket arrived in country May 30. Today Tshisekedi’s casket was brought to Kinshasa’s Martyrs' Stadium where his body will lie in state. Some opposition political figures argue the return of the elder Tshisekedi’s body amounts to a political victory over Kabila. Others consider the deal to repatriate the body as a victory for Kabila. Time will tell.

May 30, 2019: In eastern Congo, soldiers and other security forces killed 26 ADF rebels who had attacked the village of Ngite near the city of Beni (North Kivu province). The region around Beni is regarded as one of the two most critical areas in the Ebola virus epidemic region. The other is Butembo. The UN Force Intervention Brigade (IBDE) may have been involved in this action. The brigade, which is also referred to by its French name, Brigade d'Intervention, has a base in Beni.

May 27, 2019: Opposition political leader Moise Katumbi has returned to Congo. He is a former governor of Katanga Province and also owns Congo’s best soccer team. A Congolese court recently cleared Katumbi of false charges of treason made by the Kabila government. Katumbi had been in exile for three years.

May 26, 2019: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), an angry mob in killed an Ebola health worker. The mob also looted a nearby health clinic. The murder victim was a member of what Congo’s Health Ministry calls a “local infection prevention and control team.” No reason was given for the attack. However, healthcare workers report that many Congolese in the area believe the disease is a conspiracy and are suspicious of the motives of medical organizations.

May 23, 2019: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), the UN said it would improve security west of Virunga National Park, which insurgent groups and bandits have used as a base area. In order to improve coordination between medical organizations, logistics organizations and security forces, the UN has appointed a senior peacekeeper official to serve as the EERC (Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator) in Congo’s Ebola affected areas. Think of it as a “unity of command” measure in a very complex and dangerous area. The assignment includes coordinating efforts with NGOs operating in the region. (Austin Bay)

May 22, 2019: In CAR (Central African Republic) UN peacekeepers reported that in the northwest a militia murdered 31 people in three small villages. The militia just entered the villages and opened fire. The attacks produced the highest death toll since the CAR government and 14 militias signed a peace deal in February 2019. MINUSCA said the murderers likely belonged to 3R, an acronym for "Return, Reclamation and Reconciliation.” The militia claims it is defending local Fulani (a nomadic Moslem people whose violence is very visible in Mali and Nigeria.)

May 21, 2019: The UN announced it will award the Dag Hammarskjold Medal posthumously to 119 military, police and civilian peacekeepers, who were killed in 2018 and early 2019 while serving as peacekeepers around the world.

May 20, 2019: In Congo newly elected president Tshisekedi named a former president Kabila supporter Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba as the new prime minister. Opposition leaders immediately denounced the appointment as part of an election fraud deal with Kabila, that will enable Kabila to continue his corrupt endeavors without any interruptions.

The UN announced it will award a Malawian soldier, Private Chancy Chitete, the United Nations’ highest peacekeeping medal, the Medal for Exceptional Courage. Private Chitete was killed in action in November 2018 during an operation against the ADF. During the action, Chitete sacrificed his own life to save the life of a Tanzanian peacekeeper. Chitete’s infantry unit was assigned to UN “licensed to kill” Force Intervention Brigade.

May 16, 2019: If it sounds like theft and political repression, it is. Burundi’s Supreme Court has decided the government can seize the assets of opposition political leaders and activists who are living in exile. If there was any doubt, the court decision demonstrates that president Nkurunziza is a dictator. The ruling affects at least 32 people who are in exile and this group includes journalists, political leaders and various reformers. It also applies to nine army officers who are in jail in Burundi. The government accuses the officers of being involved in a 2015 coup attempt that occurred after Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term. At the time a third term was constitutionally forbidden. However, Nkurunziza ordered a “referendum” to change the constitution. The referendum was marked by intimidation of opponents and vote fraud. The Supreme Court ruling intensifies Burundi’s political crisis.

May 15, 2019: The UN announced that it is working with WHO and South Sudan to train South Sudanese to help contain the Ebola virus. The goal is to keep the virus from spreading into South Sudan from neighboring Congo. The UN will help train local medical personnel. Training will include how to screen people crossing the border. The UN will also supply South Sudan with medical supplies.

May 13, 2019: The UN has committed the entire “UN system” to support efforts to end the Ebola virus epidemic in Congo. More vaccinations will be part of the program. As of May 8 over 110,000 people had received Ebola virus vaccinations. 145,000 doses of the vaccine have been shipped to WHO.

 

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